When a general holding the highest rank, the chief of staff of the armed forces, is given direct command of a military operation, was he promoted or demoted?
The question traces the career and the head, at least metaphorically of the general Valery Gerasimov.
On the principle of not messing with a winning team, things are going badly for the Russians. The proof is the change of command made by invading forces of Ukraine Wladimir Putin.
Removing Sergei Surovikin, a bald man with the face of a serial killer and nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media for his performance in Syria, from command was tantamount to an admission of failure.
Surovikin did not last three months in office and achieved nothing on the contrary, he defended the Russian retreat from the city of Kherson and proposed to balance it with changes in Donetsk, the scene of the current and still inconclusive battles in Bakhmut and Soledar.
The most positive thing that was said about him was that he “stabilized” the front lines and disciplined the operations.
Will putting boss Gerasimov in his place bring the results Putin wants?
Tactically, it’s not impossible: if not even the chief of staff stops the campaign in Donetsk, the Russians are doomed and with that the unthinkable, the use of shortrange nuclear weapons, is wide open.
The strategic plan includes a number of elements that make predictions impossible.
The immediate mission of Gerasimov, a professional soldier from the Republic of Tatarstan, an island in the vast expanses of central Russia that is home to the ethnically Turkish population, is to conquer Bakhmut and Soledar, whose takeover has been announced and rejected by the Wagner group the Kremlin.
This fact in itself already indicates that the intrigues, if not a struggle for power, run a thousand. How is it possible for a theoretically independent force with no connection to the conventional military, such as that created by Yevgueni Prigozhin, to take the front line of the struggle and make official statements?
“Let’s not rush anything. Let’s wait for the official announcements,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Another Defense Ministry spokesman said Soledar was “blockaded to the north and south by Russian air forces.”
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It is a sign that Gerasimov is not only facing up to the Ukrainians, but also to currents whose antagonism is becoming more and more public.
The two biggest battles of the moment are horrific, with hundreds of deaths a day on both sides. Prigozhin said mercenary troops managed to form a “melting pot” in Soledar. That is, encircling the enemy from three sides, leaving only the option of surrender or fight to the death. Ukraine says its forces continue to withstand heavy attacks.
The “Gerasimov Doctrine” became popular in 2013 for synthesizing concepts of hybrid warfare, that is, who goes beyond kinetic military action the fancy name for bombing, exploding, and killing as many enemies as possible.
Points include creating a political opposition and “changing the political leadership of the country confronting Russia”. It worked in Crimea, which was annexed without resistance in 2014, and came close to working in Ukraine. The Americans were quicker and used the antiRussian sentiment evident in the Maidan protests to change the political course in Kyiv.
The United States also benefits from the most important “hybrid weapon” in this war, energy resources.
Today, 30% of the gas imported into Europe, the weapon that Putin intended to use to bring the continent to its knees, is supplied by American companies. Robert Habeck, economics minister of Germany, the country most spectacularly exposed to Russian blackmail, has announced that energy supplies from Russia will be virtually zero this year.
Even “General Winter”, the main Russian ally (on occasions when the country was attacked, not the invader), worked against it. The relatively mild temperatures did not cause power outages and other expected disasters.
General Gerasimov is able to fully understand all the complexities involved including the critics he has very hardliners, say, the ultranationalists who find Putin and his circle too soft.
On February 22, 1941, Dmitry Pavlov became one of the first Soviet commanders to receive the rank of army general. On July 22, he was shot dead at the age of 43 as punishment for overthrowing his command in Belarus in the face of Operation Barbarrosa, the Nazi invasion that had begun a month earlier. Parallel to the invasion, the Stalinist purges in the Red Army continued. More than 300 highranking officers were executed in a single day in October.
There is not a single Russian general who does not know this dismal record even if a purge today means being demoted and not shot.
And everyone also knows what friendly fire is political.
Tartar Gerasimov will have to give a lot of gravy to solve the problem with which he is inseparable.
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